Saturday, July 16, 2011

X-Sheets, Exposure Sheets, Dope Sheets

X-Sheets, Exposure Sheets, Dope Sheets...these are various ways I have heard them referred to over the years. However you call them in your country, these are of extreme importance.

Here are the X-sheets for the Hank the Spider Monkey scene I've posted in the past. This is how a director can tie together all the elements of a scene.

The elements are:
Music (as represented by the "Beat" notation in the "Action" column every 16 frames;
Action (as described in the "Action" column);
Voice (as indicated in the Dial[ogue] column);
The animation drawings (in whole and on separate levels);
Camera moves (as indicated in the "Camera Instructions" column)

The far left hand column with the heading "FR" is for the exact frame count in the entire sequence this scene appears in. This starts with number 881. The red numbers that I wrote on the right hand side of the "Action" column indicates the number of frames of this particular scene. I might redesign this X-sheet, replacing the next column heading "SB" (short for "Storyboard") with "ScFR" (short for "Scene Frame").

Using this method to plan out an entire animated film is no different than a composer writing down all the notes of a symphony to be played by a 50 piece orchestra, and giving indications as to how each note is to be played by the musicians.

In planning out my animation, I describe all the particulars of the action, coordinating it with the beat. For example: I call for hitting a specific pose on the beat (Fr 935) 6 frames ahead of the word "Africa" that starts on frame 941. I then have a four frame "Magic Fingers" cycle that works within the 16 frame Beat.

It's being this specific that saves a lot of reworking of the animation after the first pencil test.

Some may ask, "What do you leave up to the animator?" My answer: "Depends. How good is the animator?"

But no matter how talented the Animator, the exposure sheets are still the Director's plans for the entire picture, tying everything together for all departments to see and coordinate with each other.

To illustrate the results of my use of X-sheets (and even bar sheets for the "West Side Story" sequence), here's a link to my first directorial assignment at Nelvana (August 1979). This is the middle section of "Easter Fever" one of the TV Specials that Nelvana produced and were aired during the late 1970s. Perhaps in a later post, I'll describe the backstage efforts it took to do this TV Special. Or if you have specific questions about the piece, I'll incorporate my answers as part of my post.

My Sequence begins at 0:29 of this clip and goes to the end of it.


  1. Personally, I believe in a director's workbook. This has been used on most major animated features in the past. I've developed this version for myself, in that I take five exposure sheets (eliminating the parts the animator would fill in) on one page of the workbook.

    It gives me a view of a larger section of the film in one glance. It helps me to create a rhythm (which I can see visually in front of me) and it allows me to have a better overview of the production. In the past they would also include music notations, but I don't need that for my purposes, so have eliminated it.

  2. Michael, I very much agree that a director's workbook is a great way to start laying out the elements of the picture.

    Then, once the director has settled on the overview, his/her instructions would be transcribed onto full sized exposure sheets for the rest of the staff to work from, putting in the nuts and bolts so they don't show up on the screen.

  3. Hi, John,

    I've been on vacation , so was staying off the computer for a while, but I wanted to thank you for posting the X-sheets in response to my request on the earlier post. I think these are very useful for students to see how an animator/director plans out the timing of a shot.


  4. Toon Boom Harmony has its own X-Sheet, but I don't think it's the same thing as what traditional animators use. I want to be able to learn to use real X-Sheets, despite how complex it looks. Do you know of any other places where I can learn more on how to use them?

  5. Landon, if you click on "X-Sheets" in the "Subjects" column on the right side of this page, you'll be linked to my four posts covering the basics. If you have specific questions, I'm happy to answer and use them as the subject of a subsequent blog post.

    In the near future I plan to gather together and post links to the various websites that also cover Bar Sheets/Workbooks and how Directors in the 1930's and 1940's used them to time entire shorts before a single drawing was done.